We all snack. Some of us do it consciously throughout the day; others do it unconsciously when they get home, in the evenings or over weekends. Some of us snack on healthy foods; others make less healthy choices more often.
Whatever your snacking habits, the key is to make sure that you don’t add unnecessary kilojoules to your diet when you do snack. Snacking on smaller meals often throughout the day is all right if the snacks are well-planned and part of your daily allowance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
The reason snacking is useful is because snacking keeps the blood sugar levels stable which in turn prevents a drop in energy levels, and thereby prevents cravings as well as subsequent overeating. However, you need to be careful not to choose snacks that are high in sugar and fat too often as this will lead to you eating more kilojoules than you need.
Snacking is also useful if you don’t have the time to stop and have a meal. We all need glucose to fuel our bodies, so by having small, quick snacks you will prevent the sugar lows and crash in energy levels.
It is however very important to be aware of when and why you snack. Sometimes we mistake our true hunger with "emotional" hungers. You may be bored, tired, unhappy, or it may just be a habit to have that snack! Become aware of why you snack at certain times so that you can learn to fill the "non-stomach hunger" times with other events (such as reading, exercising etc).
Additionally, if you are thirsty and generally not drinking enough water your body will send out a hunger signal instead of the real thirst signal. Be mindful when you want to snack whether you have had enough fluid during the day. Similarly, if you are not sleeping enough, you may be low on energy and thus want to have a snack. But snacking will not give you the boost that you need. A quick nap is more likely to restore that battery of yours!
When your snacks are making up a large portion of your kilojoules in your eating plan, it is important that you concentrate on eating the healthy ones, that is to say, the ones that have a good source of nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals. To satisfy your hunger your snacks should ideally have a high fibre and/or water content and should be low in fat, sugar and salt.
It is very important if you are snacking to concentrate on the portion sizes of your snacks. It is easy to overeat, especially if you are too hungry, and the resultant guilt and failure feelings are never a pleasant experience. So be sure not to skip any meals/snacks as this is when your blood sugar levels will drop and you will become too hungry, with the end result generally being overeating as well as choosing the higher fat and sugar snacks.
Fresh fruit, fruit salad, frozen fruit pieces and dried fruit
Carrot sticks (use a fat-free dip e.g. fat-free cottage cheese)
Steamed or microwaved vegetables
Vegetable sticks (use an oil-free dressing if needed)
Air popped popcorn (no butter, margarine or oil)
Slice of bread, provitas or other low fat crackers spread with marmite, Bovril, fish paste, fat-free cottage cheese or hummus
Glass of fat-free milk with one teaspoon of milo, bar-one powder or horlicks
Fat-free yoghurt (plain or fruit)
Fruit bars (no sugar added e.g. Safari)
Low fat muesli or grain bars e.g. Barry’s Bar (fat free)
2 minute noodles
Bowl of breakfast cereal
Snacking is a great way to get your body into a good physiological shape where your metabolism starts working better. If you are combining this with kilojoule control it is also a very easy way to lose weight. Naturally. Without too much effort! So make this year the year you learn to keep your blood sugar levels constant by snacking on healthy foods all day long.
(Written by registered dietician, Kim Hoffmann, of The Lean Aubergine Dietetic Services. To sign up for the monthly Lean Aubergine newsletter send an e-mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Photo of woman eating fruit from Shutterstock)
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